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5 tips: How to keep your cash safe when you travel

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Author: secure travel backpack designer Sarah Giblin 

You remembered to take out cash before you stepped on the plane to your destination with another currency. Well done! Having overcome the first problem of not having money with you when you arrive in a new country, you how have to work out what to do with your thick envelope full of cash. 

The tricky thing about travelling is that everything that you own - from your pants to your passport - needs to travel with you. There isn’t a “home” or a "bank" where you can leave all the most important stuff and get it when you need it. I can tell you from experience, there are no fool proof ways to get around this. All you can do is look after your stuff, try out these tips and enjoy your holiday!

Having been robbed abroad and at home, designed a secure travel backpack and had many successful trips without a thing going wrong, here are my top 5 ways to look after your cash when you travel.

1. Split storage for money abroad

When you’re abroad, the cash you’ve brought with you is, relatively, more important than it usually is. You might not be able to replace it as easily as you would in your home town, you have a budget for your holiday and you need currency to do basic tasks like eat and sleep. This means, you need to look after it differently to the way you would at home.  

How to look after your cash travel 3 way split system money riut riutbag

Have three stores of cash 1) the equivalent of a meal’s worth very easily to hand, perhaps in your D-pocket, a day purse or your trouser pocket. This should be small enough that it can be stolen without destroying your trip, but large enough that you can do the things you want to within the next few hours. 2) Your wallet, with a day’s allowance of cash. This should only be taken out in places where you feel comfortable: at a table in a restaurant for example, rather than in a busy market place. 3) The Envelope with the rest of the cash you brought goes deep in your bag and doesn't appear when you're out and about.

We tend to carry more cash than we usually do on holiday, we're less sure of its worth and we're handing it out in places we don’t usually go. Whether you’re bartering in a market in Marrakesh or jumping on a bus in Vietnam, my advice is to keep a note or two to hand rather than getting your whole wallet out. This also has the benefit of strengthen your bartering position if the other side hasn’t seen quite how much money you got at the bureau de change :)

2. Understand the currency where you’re going

I once tried to pay someone £100 rather than £10 for a 8GB sim card for the month. I handed over 3 million Vietnamese Dong (3,000,000) rather than 30 thousand (30,000). Easy mistake to make if unprepared, but an unnecessary one. Thankfully, the woman at the desk alerted me to my error, when other’s wouldn’t have been so kind.

Understand the currency on holiday money safety riut riutbag

When you go to a place with an unfamiliar currency, use the flight to test yourself on how many of their currency are 1, 10 and 100 of your currency. Know how much a cup of coffee, a taxi or a meal out should cost and try not to have to many big notes on you. 

3. Carry 3 to 5 days’ cash

How much money should you carry? If you still have hotels, meals and transport to pay for on your arrival arriving with no cash doesn’t work. At minimum make sure you have enough to cover the first day: i.e. get you from the airport to your hotel.

In my view, the best practice is to take enough cash to cover the first three to five days. This means you can walk straight out of the airport, jump on to a train and into a taxi and grab a meal. You can calmly sit back and take in your new environment rather than spending your first 24 hours hunting for anything that looks like a cash machine. 

The more remote a place you’re going, the less likely it is that cash will be available. But in every large town or city, there will be some method for accessing cash within the first 5 days of you arriving. If everything’s been paid in advance - hotels, transport, meals - luck you: you’ll only need cash for day excursions and ice creams. So the amount of cash you stand to lose if it’s stolen a) will not be very high and b) won’t have a major impact. 

At the upper end: there are real limits on the amount of money you can take abroad. If you’re carrying over 10,000 euros, dollars or pounds, you actually have to declare this to border authorities. In this blog, I’m presuming you’re not carrying that much, so we’re talking about how to look after a few hundred for expenses whilst you’re on the road.

4. Always give yourself time to prepare

Take your time when you leave one place to go to another. I don't just mean the first day, or the first week. It’s always worth taking an extra 5 minutes just to sort out exactly what you’ll need and what should no longer be accessible. Even if it causes a few eye rolls from your fellow travellers, leaving 2 minutes later and making this planning a part of your daily routine makes your cash and belongings much safer.

My biggest problems arise abroad when I don’t plan: in the most serious case, I didn’t take 2 minutes to put my passport back into my main luggage’s D-pocket. Instead, I left my cash, camera, phone, passport and visa in a little daypack dangling at the end of my hand as I walked across Ho Chi Minh City. On that day, a motorbike rider rode past and swiped my whole daypack from my hand. Three days before the end of a 3 month trip. 

How to look after your money when you travel 3 way split riutbag

Before you leave for the day, use that final 5 minutes to take enough cash out of your main currency envelope for a drink or food on the way. Add your day’s supply into your wallet. Place the remaining main store of money deep inside your main luggage, alongside your passport and other crucial valuables. Then set out for the next leg of your journey. 

5. Use a wallet only when necessary

Don’t keep your a wallet in the back pocket of your trousers. Wallets mean nothing but money - so don’t let anyone see you aren’t looking after yours. Wallets - and phones, actually - have a habit of disappearing form pockets in the real tourist traps we love to visit.

D pocket RiutBag how to keep your money safe backpack anti theft

My design solution, as alternative to your wallet, is to hold cash in the D-pocket against the base of your spine in your daypack - like the RiutBag Crush - or you main luggage - RiutBag R15.3. It’s accessible to you but not visible to anyone else. In this case, I'd keep a few small notes in my D-pocket, a day's allowance in my wallet inside my backpack and the rest in The Envelope deep inside my main luggage. 

Some closing thoughts

The bad news: only with hindsight is everything clear. If you keep your money on your person, and someone manages to pick pocket you, it will feel like you should have left it in your bag. If someone steals your entire bag, you’ll think “if only I’d kept it all on my person!” If you leave it in the hotel safe and someone nicks it you’ll wish you’d kept it in your bag or on your person - and that you hadn’t stayed at that hotel. The point is, travelling is tricky and risky. That's part of the deal. Yes, I kicked myself after getting robbed, but I made it out alive.

The good news: The chances of having your cash stolen are low. But if it does happen, there are people and institutions who can help you whether it’s friends and family, work or your own bank.

Right! I hope my blunders in the past and my advice helps you plan for your next trip. I can tell you, even if something bad happens and your stuff is stolen, you will survive losing your cash and belongings. It will mean less relaxing holiday and more panicked racing around to try and put things right, but you’ll manage it. So plan ahead, don't rush and I wish you all the best for safe and exciting travels!

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I’m Sarah. Travel safety is important to me because I design and build backpacks called RiutBag, designed with security at their core. My company is called Riut - that stands for Revolution in user thinking. I don't want to only share my design with you, but the thinking and behaviours which help us truly adapting to our urban environment: feeling calm, confident and comfortable wherever we go today and in the future.